One of my favorite things about writing fantasy, and probably the biggest reason why I love it so much, is world building. I’m a huuuge fan of stories that don’t simply rely on reader expectation and instead go beyond the norm to create a world with its own rules. I’m especially happy when the stories set within the world actually follow the rules the author sets down.
I don’t feel as if it’s too hard either. A detail here. An original animal/race there. Historical tidbits. Hints of conflict in places outside of immediate setting can open the reader to the world on a macro level. Tiny details within the setting would help build up the world at a micro level.
World-building is just straight-up fun.
Of course, it’s best to temper it so words you’ve been using for months or years don’t completely confuse readers, but that’s one of the reasons I like to mix made-up names/words with everyday words since that seriously helps to ground me when I’m reading fantasy.
One of the things I did in Song for the Wilds was to create a couple of new plants. They don’t exactly have huge parts in the novel, but it was fun to do to give those tiny extra details to help create the houndmasters’ home. I didn’t do animals so much except for during my extra teaser stories, but that was because the duology was already damn long and I’d already introduced so many places and people and I didn’t want it to get too confusing. Plus, they would have just been throwaway mentions and that just wouldn’t do. Also, dogs kind of have the spotlight, what with the houndmasters, and I didn’t want to take away from that either.
So for I in my A-Z Challenge, I’m doing a weird take on a botanical listing where I wrote tiny snippets (with random houndmasters as POV) in order to give an idea of each plant.
When I was young, I used to run through the vinery, letting the blackflower vines snake across my shoulders, leaving them oscillating in my wake. As I grew older, I learned how to soften my passage, my dogs keeping their barking to themselves as they growled and snarled within my mind, raging for the kill, their bellies seemingly in a constant state of need.
I picked petals from dog fur while the blackflower bloomed. Tiny pieces of deep blue-streaked black I would then toss into the river to watch the fish nudge believing insects had landed upon the surface.
During those carefree days, I weighed little enough I could climb the dark vines. Rope them together to create a makeshift swing that would snap and pop through the branches as I pumped my legs, my dogs nipping at my heels with every pass. Then we would twist them into traps, mostly for a spindleleg or boar I wanted to hunt, but occasionally for my sister. How I would laugh when she stumbled and fell, caught within the vines. She would gnaw at them, staring at me, fixed intent shining from her eyes.
Those were the days I miss most. When she’d chase me down and toss me headfirst into the river in retaliation. When she’d sit on the bank, taunting me, always scaring me into thinking a diamond head snake hid within the blackflower vines trailing into the water. Then she’d pull me free and hug me close, promising that had there really been a snake she’d have tied it in a knot and ripped its ugly head off before it could bite me.
Now, I wear the blackflower braided thrice around my upper arm. Long dead, its flowers never to bloom again, but hair twined within its frayed strands. Her hair. My remembrance band, to remind me she still runs with her pack, just in a place I haven’t yet reached.
We used to hide within the ilarms, letting the bell-blossoms shake over us as we crawled through their thick reedy stalks, soggy ground beneath our palms. Our nostrils became numb, the dangers we might have placed ourselves in far away from our minds as our lips met and our teeth scraped skin. We kissed for the first time along the bank of the river, the rushing rapids and the distant falls a steady roar that kept us from hearing anything but our own heavy panting.
Who knew who might have heard us, our howls unfettered, the ignorance of youth making us bravely dumb. But we whimpered in need and growled in passion, unconcerned as our packs paced the forest where they hunted down hoppers and scraped at foxholes.
We had a special place we’d meet, right where the bend made a pool and the ilarms grew thickest. The bell-shaped flowers would wave me hello, but I never could tell if I had arrived first…or if he had. The pollen from the ilarms simply too heavy for me to smell anything but them.
So we made it a game. Stalking one another within the heavy reeds. Crawling through them, searching the wet soil for some sign of passage. Sometimes I would catch him unaware, sinking my teeth into his neck before he knew I was there. Other times he would surprise me, leaping upon me, scaring me into crying out. No matter. We both enjoyed ourselves regardless of who hunted whom.
My one complaint was that I could barely smell myself on him, the scent of the ilarms too overpowering. And when we washed, we washed each other off as well as the pollen.
But again, no matter. We no longer feel the need to hide within the reeds, the blue-violet ilarms drooping above us as we writhe. Instead, we run within the forest and sleep within each other’s arms. He is forever smelling of me and I of him. As it should be.
Most of his pack were smart. And not the my-dogs-are-better-than-yours variety smartness. True intelligence that would allow him to relinquish control, let them lead him more often than not. And they were good at it too. Trapping their prey, beating their opponents on the sands with scarcely any help from him.
Sometimes he felt superfluous.
And then a pup came along that changed his thinking completely. Because this pup, unlike her littermates, managed to get into the silliest, possibly stupidest, situations.
Take the million times she tried to weave through dognettle bushes. Didn’t matter that every dog in the pack would warn her not to. Didn’t matter that the nettles were as plain as the gaslights in the sky or that the nubby thorns along the base had already scraped her up on more than one occasion.
She would plant her belly to the ground and nudge herself forward through the leaves, randomly giving out a whine when the nettles scrubbed through her fur to her skin. He would roll his eyes and attempt to save her from her own stupidity, but more often than not would simply find himself covered in cuts, his skin raw and sore while she poked her head out from the opposite side and scampered away, nettles caught on her tail and her flank bleeding where she’d scraped herself on the short thorns again.
It happened constantly.
Once or twice she actually got caught and he would end up having to rip up half the plant to free her. Mostly, he just learned to let her tuck herself under the dognettle, her whining grating against the pack’s ears as her skin began to burn and the sharp prickles cut through her skin.
It wasn’t until she’d grown old enough to leap the dognettle and yet still would attempt to scrub herself against it that the pack finally realized that she actually liked the feeling of the nettles stinging her. So he yanked on a pair of gloves, plucked the overlapping leaves and wound them into a lopsided braided collar.
She acted as if she’d died and started running with the ancestral bitch after he gave it to her. And she wouldn’t hear of him removing it, the masochistic silly pup that she was. Ah, well, at least the rest of the pack didn’t consider him the least capable anymore.
Half the house was always covered in woven vinery and dried fronds. Little half-made hearts would cover the table. Huge pink-edged leaves smeared with paint smothering the cushions and scattered along the floor. Across the wall hung braided lucevines in all sorts of designs, yellow, white and green alternating within the patterns she’d created.
I’d had to warn her that they were poisonous to the dogs and that the pups would chew anything, so she’d taken to hooking her work upon the wall by bending down splinters of the wood. I scratched myself plenty on those splinters.
At first, her designs were malformed messes with ragged edges and mismatched vines. They hung low where she could reach. Then a little higher when she convinced one of my pack to hold her up, her little toes curling into dog fur and her giggles echoing through the room when the dog nipped at her so she wouldn’t lean too far over.
Then the patterns became more even. Less ragged. Shaped into forms I could readily see.
She tacked a tree with weeping branches near the doorway, the roots made from shredding the bottoms of the vines. A pack of dogs, each one braided with loving care and dotted with paint to represent who each was, went up above the pile of cushions. They hung from the ceiling, oscillating because she insisted they be free to run. She braided all our names and strung them around our mugs, tying them under the lip and around the bottom so they wouldn’t slip.
Everything about our home held a hint of her. Even now she was long grown from pup hood and now ran with her pack among the pools and hunted the giant silvery crest eels. I kept the painted fronds and braided hearts she’d created and hung them low upon the wall, to remind us of the time when she toddled across the floor, freshly cut lucevines in hand, ends trailing on the ground.
She brought us gifts last time she visited. Bracelets and necklaces and collars. Lucevine made. White and yellow, streaked with deep forest green. They were perfectly formed, the braiding exquisite.
Yet, no matter how her skill has grown or how she blushes in embarrassment at her youthful attempts, I can’t pull down the dogs still swinging above the cushions or remove the little childlike hearts from the wall.
Haunt of the Wilds
The Wilds Duology: Book I
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